Wildlife Background - style, technology and change


hmm I recognise this place! And some of you!
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May 1, 2008
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Something that has come to me in looking at photography in the wildlife area of photography, both in macro, mammals, reptiles, birds and more - is a change in the style of photography that is seen over the years.
One key change is that of the background and how a photographer presents it - one time backgrounds such as the following:



were common place and not regarded as lesser photographs in any way.

Now though, shots like the above would be criticized as having a noisy or busy background and the photographer advised that the backgrounds should be more like this:


blurred into nothing – often only a single colour.

Though modern lenses are capable of achieving this alone without any image editing, many photographers will spend time editing backgrounds to achieve this end result - to reduce the background to almost nothing but a single colour.
But why is this the case?

Is it that we only desire to ever see the subject and thus remove all distractions from the background? If that is the case then why worry about the background in a shot at all - why not just cut out the subject and use a pleasant background for them - a lowkey, high key, green, blue, greeny blue - and just edit it into our photography. Certainly then we could forget about wide apertures and bokehs and shoot with smaller apertures and get that focus right across our subjects - giving them their 3D appearance to the totally blurred out background. Well some photographers do, they spend the time needed to alter backgrounds to conform to the new “rules” or “standards” on what backgrounds should look like.

But many do not use that method and most will only go as far as to add some more blur to and existing background - so that is saying that the background to a shot is still important to us - as photographers. So why do we want to not have it present as a greater part of the shot? Or is it simply saying that we much prefer the act of shooting over the act of editing shots heavily and that – given the option – if there were a single button to press to get the effect we would be tempted to use it and to abandon the in camera appearance?

Could it be that as lenses and cameras have got better we have aimed for this all along and only now, are we getting this end result? I can't speak on this since I am too new to this game, way too new. I have grown with the blurred background - been advised to achieve it and also advised others to achieve it. I do like it, but how much of that like is formed (at least in part) by the inspirations and impressions put upon me by my peers?

So I ask you – both new and older photographers – how and why is this the case. Why is one background more favoured over the other now to the point where one is considered a failed shot? Why is the standard what it is and does this ever affect you when you go to make a shot?

For myself I have already stated that I like the effect, but I have known little else for it has been the main method taught and encouraged with modern photography – so my view is slightly bias in that respect – I don’t really have the choice of having a totally impartial viewpoint – and even myself I would “date” the first shot in this thread as being of a quality of older photographs. Of having a more detailed background, but also (in my eye) often a more subject covering depth of field – whilst many newer shots the subject might not be totally covered by the depth of field in a shot.
There are times when having a background is important to the subject.

There are times when a blurred out background accents the subject.

There are times when having no visible background works.

My wife and I take a lot of nature/wildlife shots ... and we never have stuck to one thing concerning the background.

Sometimes the background is too distracting ... but that is a judgement call.

I would never edit the image in such a way as to cut out the subject and paste it on another background.

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